NEW PORT RICHEY - Long volleys, frequent sideouts and constant lead changes make River Ridge-Mitchell the best rivalry in Pasco County.
But for Royal Knights senior Tricia Thomas, they can be ulcer-inducing.
"I hate those games; they're so nerve-wracking," Thomas said. "You want to go on a run, but then you don't and it's just sideout, sideout. It's crazy."
It was that way for much of Thursday's Class 5A, District 5 match at Mitchell before River Ridge pulled away 25-17, 23-25, 25-19, 25-11.
River Ridge (12-0, 6-0) clinched the top seed for the district tournament and faces No. 4 Land O'Lakes in Tuesday's semifinals. Mitchell (9-5, 4-2) earned a spot opposite No. 3 Clermont East Ridge as the No. 2 seed.
On a night when its hitting was off, River Ridge turned to serving and defense to defeat Mitchell for the 10th time in 11 meetings and second time this season.
"That's Mitchell-River Ridge volleyball," Royal Knights coach Heidi Castelamare said. "It's just tight each time we play them, and it's intense and we have great crowds, great fans and everybody gets into it, which is great for the girls to see what they do under pressure."
River Ridge never faced more pressure than in the third game, falling behind 9-3. The Knights answered with a 9-2 run and never looked back. They carried the momentum into the fourth game, storming to an 11-2 advantage en route to an easy win.
"It was a big lift," Thomas said of the Game 3 comeback. "We knew they were tipping on us like crazy, and we knew we had to pick it up and we did."
Mitchell coach Joe Dixon said his young squad contributed to River Ridge's rally with hitting errors.
"That's when I thought things were moving their best, and it was the result of a couple swing errors on our part," Dixon said. "I didn't think we were just being overpowered with kills. I thought we were making some great digs."
Thomas led River Ridge with nine kills. Brittany Castelamare had six, and Tarah Bigger and Christina Townsend added five each.
Mitchell's Kari Wiedinger had a match-high 11 kills. Shannon Stash had eight, and setters Layne Spencer and Kelli Wiedinger had their best outings of the season in Dixon's estimation.
But the Mustangs ultimately were done in by 34 hitting errors, compared to 32 kills.
"Every one of them, they all want to have that kill," Dixon said. "To learn that it takes an all-out effort like we had in the beginning, they'll learn that. I look forward to being around the next couple years, because those things will come out."